Among primers on meditation, this book is exceptional in how it guides readers who treasure inner growth and are looking for reliable direction on how to achieve it in an authentic and sustainable way. The author, a student of the Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, distills the teachings of many other spiritual traditions and religions, including Christianity, into an interfaith perspective that will appeal to all seekers of the divine. Specific elements include the foundations of spiritual practice; the benefits of energy-building exercises, affirmations, and healthy lifestyle regimens; instructions in mantra practice and inner-sound meditation; techniques for effective prayer; and guidelines to measure inner practice. The book’s accessible narrative and universal themes make it enjoyable to read and life enhancing to apply.
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About the Author
Rev. Pritz also developed and taught a workshop on spirituality in the workplace at the University St. Thomas Management Center. He has written a training component on this topic for the American Management Association, developed an integrative medicine training on Yoga, Meditation, and Spirituality for the University of St. Thomas Center for Medical Affairs, and has written numerous articles concerning related themes for Minnesota Physician, Employee Benefits News, Twin Cities Wellness and The Edge. His work has been written about in journals including Business Ethics Magazine, Employee Benefits News, and Alternative&Complimentary Therapies.
For more information, visit his website at Awake-In-Life.com.
Read an Excerpt
Meditation as a Way of Life
Philosophy and Practice Rooted in the Teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda
By Alan L. Pritz, Randy Sehutt
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 2014 Alan L. Pritz
All rights reserved.
The Journey of Awakening
If you are familiar with children, you can appreciate how their tenacious "Why, why?" questions can be challenging. Yet who can blame them for their questions: they live in the world and want to make sense of it. Natural inquiries often become more articulate or profound with age but, despite the polish of mature intellects, remain focused on basic meaning-of-life issues.
The quest to grasp why we are here represents a primal human need to solve the mystery of existence. Probing for answers has fostered philosophical and religious thought, yet despite extensive reflection the search continues. The unfolding tableau of theoretical physics, near-death phenomena, and past-life research has only intensified our pursuits. As knowledge of the outer universe expands, so does awareness of our inner nature. In some instances the line between physics and metaphysics resembles an ideological spectrum more than separate fields of inquiry.
In the television miniseries Broken Trail, the aging cowboy played by Robert Duvall reflects, "We are all travelers in this world. From the sweet grass to the packing house, birth till death, we travel between the eternities." Eventually, everyone entertains questions about existence and feels compelled to explore life's meaning. When people do that, they begin a journey toward awakening. Just as seeds planted in fertile soil inexorably grow toward the light, we are evolutionarily called from an automatic-pilot existence toward one of spiritual awareness. Some come to this readily through an affinity for philosophy, religion, or natural wonder. Others seek relief from hardship through esoteric or religious study. By midlife, our stable routines often become haunted by issues of mortality and awareness that outer accomplishments are not necessarily the benchmarks of a life well lived.
Despite such prompts, a key question arises: why is there any evolutionary compulsion in the direction of self-inquiry? The answer is a bold but defensible statement: We are hardwired to seek connection with our Source. Consider that everyone is fundamentally motivated by a drive for fulfillment. Each of us has a conscious or unconscious desire to be happy, regardless of how that manifests individually. Epitomized for some as a spouse or family, for others it is a job, house, car, income, or power. Yet life repeatedly teaches—usually dramatically—that seeking happiness externally is a recipe for disappointment. Satisfaction arising from outer causes does exist, at least temporarily, but upon reflection it is clear that happiness is not a fundamental component of things (or people) per se but arises from our reactions to them. These reactions reflect a capacity to access a preexisting inner joy that reveals itself when tapped by external circumstances. If joy were an ingredient of externals, it would engender universal responses rather than subjective ones. For example, when splashed with water we all get wet; that is objective and universal. Our reaction to getting splashed, however, be it glee or annoyance, is subjective and is not a quality of the water itself. Thus, the sense of fulfillment we get from people or things is a relative one subject to our reactions. This temporary sense of fulfillment is prone to innumerable variables that may shift unpredictably. Enduring relationships are complexities in and of themselves and worthy of the effort, but they too must be guided by wisdom in order to last. The bold truth is that nothing outside us produces or sustains lasting joy. Even those who allegedly have it all eventually experience emptiness if their measures of life satisfaction are hung on temporal rungs. Joy is part of our inner domain and must be reaped from its interior source to ensure sustainability.
Understandably, we want whatever happiness we have to stay. When it does not, we blame a laundry list of culprits—spouses, jobs, money—for being inadequate and complicating our lives. But existential dilemmas such as these are never fully attributable to outside factors; they arise largely within us from regions composing our essential core. When we are disconnected from this essence and what it provides, external affairs gain power over our peace of mind. Negative mental states spawn diverse forms of physical or emotional distress, but all fundamentally manifest spiritual malaise. Such distress compels us to corrective actions, which inevitably include meaning-of-life reflection. Yet, again, why are we flung into this messy dynamic? Because we are esoterically confused creatures of paradox. Incarnate physically, we are not, as the singer Madonna suggests, material beings living in a material world. That is a delusion many succumb to and inevitably suffer from. The famed Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin rightly declared, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." His assertion testifies to a deep reality. Our essence, that which imbues us with consciousness, call it soul or Spirit, hails from that which created it. Since we are a component of the Divine, our souls necessarily seek completion through reuniting with it, and that compels us accordingly. Wholeness or fulfillment, therefore, can never be gotten from temporal means, but solely by returning to our source.
Why is this fundamental principle not more obvious? Why do we consistently rely on sensory or material gratification to make us feel complete and repeatedly wind up in pitiful straits? That is because of the esoteric paradox. Soul cravings are blurred by the body containers in which they are housed, and, complicating matters further, the world supports this misperception. Our complex psychophysical constitutions are such that spiritual drives get muddied when routed through body/mind channels that link satisfaction with sensory stimuli. We are motivated by various impulses, only to find that many of them arise from, and distort, soul-based longings. It is a perverse system, certainly a recipe for heartache, but there it is. Take love for example. We want love and go to great lengths to acquire it, but why? On one level it makes us feel good, complete, or connected to something bigger than ourselves. Unfortunately, this search for love often leads us to "all the wrong places." The truth is that we want love because it, too, is part of our spiritual constitution. Our essence is love, and, like moths drawn to light, we crave it. Love in turn produces joy; thus the soul fundamentally yearns for love and joy because they compose the nature of Spirit, with which we seek alignment. Viewing the quest for love and joy through this lens shifts life perspectives considerably.
Human love and relationships are not to be dismissed, but the compulsions for each are clearly not as simple as they seem. They are rooted in soul-based spiritual drives that go beyond the temporal to the eternal, which is why spiritual giants—Jesus, Krishna, and Buddha to name but three—uniformly warned against putting stock in the world. It will not deliver what the soul craves.
According to Christian tradition as expressed by John in his First Epistle, this sentiment is succinctly presented as: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
Krishna similarly exorts spiritual aspirants to keep singularly focused on the divine in all circumstances: "But whereso any doeth all his deeds, renouncing self for Me, full of Me, fixed to serve only the Highest, night and day musing on Me—him will I swiftly lift forth from life's ocean of distress and death whose soul clings fast to Me. Cling thou to Me! Clasp Me with heart and mind! So shalt thou dwell surely with Me on high."
And Buddha preached Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, directing people away from wrong thinking, desire, and the suffering they produce because he sought their greatest good, a spiritual potential not realized through temporal fixation or endeavors.
All spiritual masters teach that lasting happiness cannot be gained from transient worldly means. Refuge in the eternal is the only way to enduring fulfillment.
On the plus side, earthly disillusionment is a magnificent, rather crafty nudge toward spiritual inquiry and reconciliation. We need not become anything, but merely recollect what we already are: Spirit. Consider legendary figures like Francis of Assisi, Ramana Maharshi, Moses, Mohammed, or the Buddha. Each had relatively ordinary lives until extraordinary events transpired. Through grace and dedication to higher pursuits, they attained levels of illumination we all innately seek. They also demonstrated that their realizations are not for a select few but are available to all. As gold covered by mud nevertheless remains gold, once the grime of spiritual debris is removed our spiritual essence is revealed. Again, we need not become anything, but merely reconnect with what we already are: Spirit. We are all soul waves bobbing on a sea of Spirit. The ocean of Spirit knows it has created these waves, yet the waves must recall that they are of the ocean. Those willing to plumb the depths of consciousness will, eventually, come to this realization.
Sensory pleasures and material acquisition can never be our ultimate goals; they simply do not provide what the soul needs. Since we are souls only temporarily encased in bodies, our requirements for fulfillment must be aligned with our source. This truth is what prompts us to self-discovery through the vicissitudes of life. Once these matters are embraced, the journey of awakening begins and inexorably leads us to completion in Spirit. Although worldly influences can temporarily derail us from the inner journey, those ready to undertake it will find the journey beneficial. Just as sparks of self-inquiry may be fanned into flames of wisdom, using the methods of meditation provided herein will help seekers walk the transformative path and harvest the fruits of Spirit latent within.
Amusingly, my inner journey began when I was quite young and was watching a television Western. There was little to recommend most cowboy plots: heroes, villains, and ladies in distress—archetypal elements set amid horses, whiskey, and tumbleweed. This particular show, a dimly recalled episode of some sort, but not to be confused with the later TV series called Kung Fu, was unique because it featured two samurai warriors out West. Predictably, whenever these men passed through frontier towns local rowdies wanted to fight. The samurai inevitably dispatched them with martial-art skills and continued on, leaving sore wranglers in their wake. Seeing those two fight—victoriously yet dispassionately—converted my childish emulation of the sword-fighting hero Zorro into something more exotic. Karate-like attacks on anything that moved became the norm, and eventually my parents enrolled me in martial arts training, on the condition that I lay off the dog.
Tales of my prowess would be fabricated: I was not Bruce Lee. I was a dedicated but unremarkable martial arts student who simply persisted. This anecdote of my brown-belt test offers an accurate, if humbling, perspective.
In the martial arts world, the brown-belt test is a serious rite of passage from clumsy beginner to relatively advanced student. Until this point, the idea of being a black belt inhabited a quasi-mythic, unobtainable domain. Suddenly it was within reach.
As with most martial arts exams, testing is open to the public. Guests gather, classmates flit about self-importantly, teachers coalesce into judging panels, and you try to look devastating. Since I was a timid sort, this test was a nerve-racking event I had dreaded for months. Test day came, and I arrived anxious and distracted. En route to the locker room I noticed my car keys were missing, not a good thing given my strained disposition. In near panic, I retraced my steps outside and, with mixed relief, saw my car was safe and ... still running. No more need be said.
As for the test, I passed. Ten years later found me a black belt in two systems, one in my primary Chinese style and another in a Korean tradition. In fact, I excelled as one of a group of advanced students and was promoted to the rank of sifu, or teacher—proof that even mediocre ability could be transformed by hard work and commitment.
This era was noteworthy for cultivating in me a healthy body and a broad, receptive mind. When not training or teaching, I avidly read about mysticism to gain insight into nonordinary laws and subtle realities. My metaphysical curiosity grew beyond what was accessible in the martial domain, so I turned toward yoga, meditation in particular. Such pursuits were not widely popular back then where I lived, so it was hard knowing how to proceed. Unlike the biblical Job, who was relentlessly pummeled by divine tests, my knowledge-gathering process was akin to Monty Python's search for the Holy Grail. The Divine allowed me free rein for comedic value. As mentioned, I knew what I wanted—meditation training—but knew not how to get it. Consequently, my journey lurched forward inelegantly. In fact, while experimenting with anything that could propel me forward, I fell under the narrative spell of a book about yogic adepts. In emulative fashion I decided to test my mettle by practicing austerities, an inconceivably foolish idea without proper guidance. One evening I entered a sauna, assumed a meditative pose, and settled in to conquer heat sensitivity. As time passed, I no longer felt hot and exalted in this seeming first triumph over the flesh. The truth was less glamorous. Lack of sensation came not from mystical ability but from sweat: the body's cooling system was simply doing its job. Several hours later my rump felt uncommonly tender. A subsequent, discreet exam revealed an enormous blister formed in a delicate area, proof that, despite my mental aspirations toward transcendence, my nether regions failed to oblige!
Offbeat experiences aside, mysticism captivated me. Sages of all faiths shared transcendental insights that common religionists lacked. Gazing beyond the bounds of ritualized dogma, they spoke authoritatively of principles that guided the destinies of people and planets. I was passionate to learn about this area, as it revealed an underlying order and intelligent purpose behind the apparent chaos of creation. Chief among influential books was Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Curiously, my first response to this book was to feel slightly disconcerted: I could not tell by the cover photo if the author was male or female. I later learned that such androgyny reflected perfect masculine/feminine balance and was reminded not to judge books, or people, by appearances. After cracking the book open, I was enthralled. The recounting of this master's life touched me profoundly. Being ready for its message and in a position to act upon it, I put my belongings into storage and went to a mountain retreat in California, where I could obtain the meditation and spiritual training I yearned for.
Understand that spirituality is neither a code word for impracticality nor an excuse for irresponsibility. Radical actions like mine are not recommended per se; they can create more difficulty than they are worth. My situation, however, was such that this step felt right. Being single, without debt, and seven years into the same job, I needed a vital redirection for my life. Additional academics or another job simply were not the answer. For months I had experienced a strange pull westward. This did not make sense at the time since I was not prone to such phenomena, but I now recognize it as inner guidance. Fortunately, I was able to heed that call, studied with an accomplished teacher, and gained the tools for my life's work. And a life's work it is, because, unlike ordinary graduate pursuits that are mostly scholastic, meditative competency is assessed by direct realization. Seeds of insight yield the fruits of wisdom only after years of disciplined practice and cultivation.
Excerpted from Meditation as a Way of Life by Alan L. Pritz, Randy Sehutt. Copyright © 2014 Alan L. Pritz. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsAbout This Book Preface
Chapter 1: The Journey of Awakening Chapter 2: Terms and Concepts
Chapter 3: The Teacher: Finding an Enlightened Guide
Chapter 4: Good Company: Spiritual Community
Chapter 5: The 12 Principles of Spiritual Understanding
Chapter 6: Right Behavior: Guidelines for Thought and Deed Part One
Chapter 7: Right Behavior: Guidelines for Thought and Deed Part Two
Chapter 8: Energy: Building and Focusing the Life Force
Chapter 9: Chakras, Life Force, and Breath: Energy Exercises
Chapter 10: Internalization: Expanding Awareness
Chapter 11: The Art of Developing Concentration
Chapter 12: Meditation: Absorption in Spirit
Chapter 13: Making the Commitment: Practice Guidelines
Appendix: Spirituality and Religion
A Closing Word
About The Author